The City of Victoria has reversed course on looking into allowing more off-leash dog areas this year and has decided to go back to its original strategy.
The city will do a fulsome, community-wide review of the best locations for dog parks as part of its 2023 budget process. However, residents coming forward over the last month with multiple proposals and pilots saw council agree to look into Fernwood, North Park and Fairfield off-leash spots ahead of the review.
Council approved having staff look into pilot off-leash areas at Brooke Street Park in Fairfield and Royal Athletic Park, and explore enclosing a portion of Harris Green Park (at Chambers and Pandora streets) for an off-leash dog run.
When council met on Thursday, Mayor Lisa Helps introduced a successful motion to have those ideas included in the original 2023 strategy.
Her motion said council – including herself as a co-mover of the Fernwood project – set a precedent by allowing the resident-led proposals to proceed this year instead of incorporating them into next year’s review. That potentially set the stage for constant dog park proposals being pushed by individual neighborhoods this year.
On Thursday, Helps said residents made compelling arguments about the spaces not just being good for dogs, but also places where the community could gather. However, the projects would take time and effort away from the work the city’s parks department is doing this year, the mayor said.
In making their case for more play places for dogs, residents pointed to: a lack of green and park space near the city’s most populous areas; how fewer off-leash options mean residents would have to drive in order to get to recreation spots; and the importance of community connection amid the pandemic.
“I understand and also feel the pressure from the public to take action on the dogs in parks issue,” Helps said in her motion. “However, from a good-governance and strategic point of view, the best way for us to be responsive to the public is to have an in-depth and comprehensive conversation about this in 2023 rather than as one-offs in 2022.”
Coun. Ben Isitt was the lone member to oppose as he said some of the pilots could be achieved through regulatory changes that wouldn’t take up a lot of resources.
Coun. Jeremy Loveday said some proposals met his threshold for being supportable interim pilots, but recognized the proposals likely wouldn’t stop coming. He expressed concern about the dog park plan being pushed aside by the next council, should they not deem the issue a priority.
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